For the new generations, the richest men in the world are Bill Gates , Carlos Slim , Amancio Ortega, owner of Zara, and the founders of Amazon, Google and Facebook. However, 100 years ago there was only one surname, Rockefeller, and its influence was so extensive and so great that it lasted until last week when David, the last influential member of the dynasty, died at the age of 101.Everything was born with John Davidson Rockefeller, a titan of humble origins who built an emporium without equal. Born in 1839, he started as a child in business and came early to the top. At age 20 he was a millionaire, and at 39 was a billionaire who controlled 90 percent of the oil refining in the United States for his talent to negotiate, his vision,
Rockefeller understood that refining was the key to the oil business, and the results validated his sense of smell. His company reached a gigantic scale that allowed him to exert enormous power and use it to intimidate the competition, which he crushed with threats and turbid arrangements with the railroads, which allowed him to transport the product at a lower price than his rivals. In this way he absorbed 22 of 26 refineries that competed him. He was also correct when, before the automobile boom, he drastically reduced the price of kerosene and massified it among the Americans as a means of illuminating their homes. So, when he had just detonated a timid oil boom, he was already a millionaire. And when oil became indispensable for the whole industry, at the end of the nineteenth century, and the ‘black gold mine’ belonged to it. He became the first ‘billionaire’ in history with a fortune that today would equal 30 billion dollars. His competition, detractors and public opinion saw his company Standard Oil of Ohio as an insatiable anaconda. This beast generated, since the nineteenth century, a rejection that today survives in the population against large corporations without limits that are believed above the law.
When the founder died 98 years in 1937, his fortune amounted to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, according to Forbes, a percentage that today would equal 340 billion dollars. Such a weight was threatening to the whole country, not to say to the world, so in 1911, under Theodore Roosevelt’s rule, the Supreme Court cut into pieces the beast. Of the gigantic Standard Oil emerged 34 companies whose legacy is very present. Today, many are the most powerful in the world: Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips. Exxon and Mobil merged again and created a monster that would fill the great patron of pride.
Lesson and obsession
The achievement of being the richest man in the world is hardly despicable for a man who grew up in dignified poverty guided by religious faith. As a child, John D. wandered through New York State until his father, William, a small-time gimmick nicknamed Devil Bill, settled the family in Cleveland. As usual, Devil left them to his fate for months and, with no other choice, John Rockefeller left school to support his mother and younger siblings. From that moment on he reflected his obsession to record in a notebook until his smallest transaction, while he applied the particular lessons of Devil Bill, who boasted with his friends because he deceived his children whenever he could. “I want to fine tune them,” he said.
That shrewd instruction was crucial to Rockefeller, who in negotiation understood his innate gift for making money. John D. became convinced that just as there were talented people, for example for the opera, God had given him the magic of making money, and he could do nothing but obey him. First he bought candy that he then sold in smaller pieces. He went up the scale of selling dairy products, a business that broke out in the civil war and meant enormous income, and with the end of the war he made the decision of his life by getting on the oil train. It was enough to invest $ 4,000 at the right time.
Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Rob Chernow, acclaimed for his writings on George Washington and Alexander Hamilton (who inspired the most successful Broadway musical of recent times), wrote Titan: The Life of John Rockefeller. In this he shaped the contradictions of the man who was thought to be just terrifying, like the character of Daniel Plainview who inspired the film There Will Be Blood, but in reality showed more nuances. “I thought people wanted to take advantage of their money, and did not tip, but it was contradictory. At the same time, he was the most ferocious monopolist of the golden era, but he also looked at the long term, showed an enlightened philanthropic vein and a strong religious faith, “he said.
That altruistic vein was further accentuated when he appointed the Rev. Frederick Gates as counselor. He ruled that Rockefeller’s fortune was an avalanche, and that he had to part with much of it, otherwise he would overwhelm the lives of his children and grandchildren. Believer as he was, he did not hesitate to accept. But with the same rigor with which he did his business, he decided that his money would have to go to the fields where he was most useful. Its millions pushed for scientific research, founded the University of Chicago (invested 80 million, about $ 2 billion today), and even promoted the education of women of color in Atlanta. Many even consider that he made those contributions in an attempt to wash away the face of his bad practices and his dominant impulse. His gifts, however, did not take away from him the investigations of the government,
John Davidson Rockefeller had four daughters and a son, John Rockefeller Jr., who took over the reins of the family. And although it assumed for a time the petroleum business, was dedicated especially to the root farm. John Jr. and his wife, Abby, moved the philanthropy in extremis, so they opened the wallet on several fronts and contributed works, donations and restorations that still stand out in the US panorama. Abby established the foundations of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), while John Jr. spent $ 56 million restoring the historic village of Williamsburg, Virginia, and also purchased the grounds of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
In 1939, John Jr. inaugurated, after investing $ 250 million, the Rockefeller Center in the heart of Manhattan, a symbol of the Big Apple that still attracts thousands of tourists. Symbolically or not, Rockefeller Group sold the 89,000-square-meter complex to Japanese investors in 1989. In all, John Jr. and his wife disbursed the equivalent of $ 50 billion today. And, to make matters worse, after the end of the Second World War, John Jr. donated the land (estimated value 8.5 million dollars) in which today is located the building of United Nations. John Jr. also decided to enter the world of banking and assumed as majority shareholder of Chase Manhattan Bank. His son David Rockefeller, who died last Sunday, continued along this line.
The latest influencers
Many close to David Rockefeller, the last of the powerful influencers of the powerful dynasty, describe him as “the sweetest man they ever knew.” He led the Chase for years (today, JP Morgan Chase), but also has a few controversies to his credit. David urged President Jimmy Carter to allow Sah Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlevi, to treat cancer in the United States, which sharpened the already critical situation of American hostages at the embassy in Tehran. It is also claimed that it financed the coups d’etat of several Latin American military dictators. And while he followed the line of exerting his influence and compensate with philanthropy, his legacy is bittersweet and his fortune, of ‘hardly’ 3.300 million dollars, does not impress anyone.
However, more than David, the most public of the third-generation Rockefellers was his brother Nelson. His political vocation was evident from the age of 36, when he assumed the position of Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. He later wrote to the Governor of New York, which he assumed in 1958 and held until 1973. But he wanted everything and pointed to the presidency, although he did not expect that his personal life would derail his aspiration. In 1964 the conservative society of the time charged to him to have divorced and married again, in 1963, with a much smaller socialite that also had left to his husband and to his children. Nelson lived political triumphs, but many tragedies. One of his sons died in 1961 at the hands of cannibals in Papua New Guinea. Nelson, meanwhile, died of a heart attack when he made love to a young blonde.
His brother Winthrop was governor of Arkansas, while Laurance made progress in different fields such as investment banking, natural conservation, and enjoyed as few of his favorite hobby, aviation. John D. Rockefeller III, the oldest of them, saw philanthropy as the lifeblood of American success and that was why it was essential to create two government commissions to facilitate and promote it.
The dynasty no longer has the weight of before, with a fortune of 10 billion dollars, barely ranks among the 25 richest in the country north. But few can speak of a great-great-grandfather who, by good and bad, changed the world.